The fifth episode of Amazon Prime’s The Grand Tour finally did something the show has failed to do up to now, which was to stop trying so damn hard. Less of the silly gags, less of the overblown scripted films, more cars and much more genuine entertainment. And guess what? At last, it works.
When I watched this episode, a lot of what was on my mind was what didn’t work before, and what finally worked this time around. I want it to be understood that I do not hate this show. I just haven’t enjoyed it much, until now.
This week’s episode featured Clarkson, Hammond and May testing three cars in Morocco—Clarkson in the Alfa Romeo 4C, Hammond in the new Mazda Miata, and May in the Zenos E10 S—as well as a segment featuring a life-sized version of the board game Battleship played out with shitty exploding cars.
If that sounds like a decent episode of Top Gear to you, you’re right. And here’s where I need to clear up some hypocrisy. In my brief review of the first episode of The Grand Tour, I revealed my disappointment that the hosts and producer Andy Wilman weren’t really trying anything new or refreshing—at least not enough to separate the themes, style and overall feel of The Grand Tour from their Top Gear work.
Of course that’s not horrible, but I felt like all of the hype and all of the potential coupled with the bigger budget, and especially the creative freedom, should have resulted is something distinct. Instead, I felt The Grand Tour was tip-toeing around Top Gear without getting too far away. Not much is different with this week’s episode. But time has passed and I can accept the show for what I now know it to be, and this episode is just different enough to count.
If you’re gonna be an episode of Top Gear, be a really good episode of Top Gear. And that’s what we got here.
This week, there was none of Mike Skinner, the horrible American stereotype of a racing driver. The overplayed celebrity death skit came and went without too much fuss, and quickly turned into a hilarious gag of the hosts playing with sex toys that made for some stellar screengrabs.
But it’s the second half of the show that really, finally, struck a chord with me. After blowing up a sex doll with a V8 engine, as one does, the show pivoted back to the Moroccan road test, resulting in a series of events that were clearly unscripted and consequently hilarious.
Even the scripted parts of the second half of the show worked better than anything else so far this season. Clarkson split off from the other two in his Alfa Romeo 4C to once again confirm that Alfas are for looking at and not necessarily talking about. Then he shut up, the aspect ratio tightened, the colors went to black and white, and gave us one of the most simple, stunning car films ever produced by Clarkson and Co.
Was it a giant Alfa Romeo advertisement? Of course it was. Yet, the 4C is such a characteristically classic Alfa deserving of plenty of critique, but also deserving of appreciation at its presence and beauty. The Grand Tour delivered the feeling a car like the 4C should give an enthusiast. No voice-over or scripted jokes, just the car on some fantastic roads with a beautiful cover of ‘Windmills of Your Mind’ to let us share in how special the car was.
Then the three presenters and their cars ran timed laps around the Game of Thrones set. Nothing too exciting, but at this point in the episode, I appreciated that they were actually skillfully driving and testing their vehicles in a creative environment, and not something so over the top and overblown, and frankly boring, like the time-looping military segment of the second episode.
The key element to this fifth episode was that the comedy and chemistry of the hosts, the creativity of the entire team behind them, and the technical capabilities and the budgets afforded to the show were all focused to entertain me, the viewer.
Unlike the previous four episodes, which felt like exaggerated spectacle and skits that entertained the hosts, this show felt somehow looser, less scripted, and less ridiculous and time-wasting, resulting in the first episode of The Grand Tour that was genuinely funny and entertaining.
This, perhaps, is the episode where I will finally yield that the boys are back. Let’s see if they decide to stick around next week.